Nothing would make Pakistan-born Fawad Ahmed happier if he gets to play for Australia in the upcoming Ashes series © Getty Images
By Saj Sadiq
Pakistan-born leg-spinner Fawad Ahmed, who played 10 First-Class matches in the country, was working in a warehouse and trying to make his way playing cricket in Australia whilst waiting for a verdict regarding his asylum application.
Ahmed lived in Pakistan’s northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa; he was a supporter of an NGO who worked for women’s rights, played cricket and coached children in the game. Those activities were considered dangerous enough to result in him being targeted and threatened by militants.
After he was made a permanent resident he was offered contracts from at least three different Big Bash League franchises. He eventually played for the Melbourne Renegades.
Ahmed caught the attention of the Australian team when he bowled to them in the nets last year and has also played for Victoria in the Ryobi One Day Cup. He also played for the Prime Minister’s XI against the West Indies and picked up the wicket of Darren Bravo.
Fawad also featured against the England Lions recently and took seven wickets in a First-Class match against Queensland.
Here he is in an interview with Saj Sadiq of PakPassion.net:
PakPassion.net (PP): How’s life in Australia?
Fawad Ahmed (FA): Oh it’s fantastic, I’m loving it. It’s a life that every cricketer hopes for and something that he works hard for. The fruits of my labours — I am finally starting to get those now. I am performing well in domestic cricket and everything is working out the way I wanted it to.
I’m very happy with my recent performances for Victoria and I’m hopeful that this continues into the future as well. I hope to continue to play good cricket not just now but for many years to come.
PP: You must be missing Pakistan and your family though?
FA: Definitely. Pakistan is my country. My heart and mind is always with Pakistan and I still feel sad when I hear the negative news coming out of Pakistan from the various news channels. Just recently I was talking to an Australian friend of mine and I told him that my people back home have been paying the price of poor leadership for quite some time now.
It deeply saddens me when I hear of bomb blasts back home and innocent people dying and also the reports of increasing inflation. The basic amenities of life are now not easily available, even to those with financial resources. The people of Pakistan are in great pain at the moment and I pray that Allah saves our country and brings peace to the entire nation. I also pray that Allah gives us a true and honest leader so that prosperity and peace return to our nation.
PP: Tell us about when you were playing cricket in Pakistan. You made your First-Class debut in 2005. Yet, you featured in such few matches?
FA: I’ve been playing cricket for quite some time now. I played Pakistan Under-19 Divisional Level cricket and was also selected for the Pakistan Under-19 team. I was playing regularly at Under-19 level and at District Level and performing consistently. Then, in 2005, I topped the District Level bowling averages in the whole of Pakistan and as a result I was selected to play First-Class cricket.
It was unfortunate that I didn’t get a proper chance in First-Class cricket. Out of all the matches that I played in First-Class cricket I only really got a proper chance at the Pakistan Customs team where I performed well. However, for Abbotabad, I played five or six matches and I didn’t even bowl a total of 50 overs. If you are playing five or six First-Class matches and not even bowling 50-60 overs in total, then it is very unfortunate, as being a leg-spinner you need to bowl a lot more deliveries to settle yourself into the team and into a match.
I didn’t get a proper chance and each time the gap between matches increased. You know what the situation is like in Pakistan and in particular the area I come from, the situation is even worse there. In terms of cricket and away from cricket, those were very tough days for me and life was difficult. I guess I was destined to be here in Australia.
PP: You also played with Junaid Khan for Abbotabad didn’t you?
FA: Yes, I did. He’s performed so well this last year and has rightly been selected for the Pakistan team. In 2009, I played a full season with him. He is a very good player and like a younger brother to me. I’m still in contact with him and we talk regularly. He still considers me his senior and looks to me as an elder brother. He always asks for my advice over the phone.
Junaid’s getting better day by day and progressing well as a cricketer and I am very happy for him. The way he is going, he is certainly making a name for himself in international cricket. God willing, on Pakistan’s tour of Australia next year we may be playing against one another which certainly will be surreal but a very happy moment for both of us.
PP: You have played domestic cricket in both Pakistan and Australia. How do the two compare?
FA: Talent-wise, Pakistan is amazing. You will find countless players with so much talent. There are so many gifted cricketers all around the country. Unfortunately, most of them don’t get a proper chance at the right time so they can’t make the most of it and progress. Then, through a lack of support and a loss of interest, those young cricketers are lost to the system. It’s really sad that so much cricketing talent in Pakistan is being wasted.
On the other hand, First-Class cricket in Australia is tough because it is a small country with respect to population. However, they are very professional in all sports, not just cricket. When they play, they play with a lot of heart and at the highest level which includes the best facilities, environment, competition and challenges. In addition to that, people here work very hard on improving themselves. You cannot afford to stand still here in the world of sport, as you will be passed by.
Also in Pakistan, it is unfortunate that we don’t have the facilities. When I was playing cricket in my home town of Swabi, there was only one decent cricket ground yet the total population of that area was over one million. In that ground, there weren’t even any wickets available for net practice. Yet the area still produced and continues to produce Test, ODI and domestic players. There are no facilities there, but a whole lot of politics. They will not let a player progress easily. Even if you play well and are demonstrating talent, they will try to bring you down. There are many issues and problems in Pakistani domestic cricket. Leadership — every institution in Pakistan lacks proper leadership and that is a huge problem.
PP: Over the years we’ve seen leg-spinners with varying styles play international cricket. How would you describe your style of leg spin?
FA: My style doesn’t really resemble any other bowler. Most of the time, I tried to copy Shane Warne, but my bowling action is quite different to his. I have always followed Shane Warne’s career since the time I started playing cricket. However, he is difficult to copy because he had a bowling style which was unique.
At this time, I think my current style and action is fine because it is working for me. I think bowling is about what suits you and what works for you. With regards to my bowling style, I can’t say that it resembles any one. I walk in slowly with a small run-up, significantly smaller than [Shahid] Afridi, [Saqlain] Mushtaq, Abdul Qadir, Warne, and [Anil] Kumble. I don’t try to be quick in my action and my action involves no jump.
PP: Speaking of Shane Warne, have you met him whilst in Australia? If so, what advice did he give you?
FA: I’ve met Shane Warne a couple of times and I bowled with him in the nets at the MCG at the beginning of last year’s training in the BBL. He appreciated me quite a bit and he gave me plenty of advice. I was lucky that I bowled well in the nets and gave some of the international batsmen a tough time, so he helped me quite a bit and told me to keep working hard as well as giving me lots of encouragement.
I didn’t think he would be so approachable and appreciative since he is a legend and such a big player, but it was not like that at all. When he saw me bowling, he was bowling in the same net as me and he gave me quite a few tips and a lot of advice which was a great gesture from him.
PP: There are other high-profile spinners currently in world cricket — such as Graeme Swann, Saeed Ajmal, Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin. Are there any other spinners who you admire?
FA: If we look at records and bowling, Saeed Ajmal is by far the best. Australia’s Nathan Lyon is also quite a good spinner. He is trying and getting better day by day. Ashwin is also trying very hard. Sri Lanka’s left arm spinner, Rangana Herath, I feel is quite good for Test cricket and I really like his bowling. All of these Test-level bowlers are good spinners, but there is no stand out leg-spinner at the moment. This is a real shame since leg-spin bowling is a real art and one of the beauties of cricket. The way Mushtaq Ahmed, Shahid Afridi, Shane Warne, Anil Kumble, Abdul Qadir and Danish Kaneria have all ruled in their time — they were all good leg spin bowlers. We will have to see if any young leg-spinner comes through down the line but I think Ajmal is the best spin bowler in the world at the moment.
PP: You were signed by Melbourne Renegades in the BBL this year having received three offers. Why did you pick the Renegades?
FA: I was running out of time since there were only two weeks left until the deadline to sign the contract and I had to choose one of the teams. I received two or three offers, but I was not sure if I would be able to get residency in time and if Cricket Australia would allow me to play as a local.
I have been in Melbourne for three years now and had also been practicing with Melbourne for the last two years. The coach also knows me quite well and I did quite a bit of training with Melbourne last year too.
When Shahid Afridi and Abdul Razzaq came to play in the BBL, I used to go and train with them. So, the coach at Melbourne knew me quite well. I had also performed quite well at grade cricket in Melbourne in the last few seasons, so they knew about me. I met the Renegades coach and he offered me a place in the side and luckily for me we were winning regularly.
As you know, in any format and anywhere in the world, if the team is winning it is quite hard for new players to get a chance. However, I enjoyed the experience and I feel that I played a good role for my side on and off the field. That is why I stayed here and this was a great learning experience for me in my first year.
Fawad Ahmed bowling in the Big Bash League for the Melbourne Renegades © Getty Images
PP: You were selected for the Australian Prime Minister’s XI team when the West Indian side toured. Your captain in that match was the legendary Ricky Ponting. What did Ponting say to you and what advice did he give?
FA: I first met Ricky Ponting in Brisbane when he was training with the Australian cricket team for the first Test [against South Africa]. He is not only a great player, but he is also a great human being. He appreciated and encouraged me a lot. He was very close to me and in that match against the West Indies and he gave me a lot of support. At one time I wasn’t bowling well, so he supported me a lot and gave me a lot of advice, thanks to which I also picked up a wicket and bowled quite a few good overs. It was an absolute honour for me to be on the same field as Ponting and something that I will never forget.
PP: Your instant success in Australian domestic cricket must seem like a dream come true?
FA: Yes, by Allah’s will. There was a time when I was waiting, waiting and waiting for a chance. All of the dreams that I had have come true. The way I performed in the one-day and four-day matches in Australia, God willing, I will continue to perform and my dreams will continue to come true. Any cricketer’s dream is to play international cricket and hopefully my dream will be fulfilled. I have high hopes that this will happen one day.
PP: The ICC have said that your selection for Australia can happen from 18 August 2013, or earlier if you get an Australian passport. That must be an exciting thought?
FA: This is a source of great happiness for me! The way the media coverage is coming through, the way people are supporting me, the comments from major players on my performances and my future. It makes me very happy. Playing for Australia is something that would be a source of pride for me, my friends and my family. I hope, one day, I will play for Australia, but primarily I need to concentrate on consistency in domestic cricket.
Playing for Victoria is an honour and achievement. I am cap number 803 for Victoria and there have been a lot of top-quality players who have represented Victoria and even now we have quite a few Australian Test players and members of the ODI team. It’s my responsibility to try my best for them and to continue to perform. As long as I stay fit and healthy, I will keep working hard for them and giving my all for them.
PP: There are two Ashes series scheduled this year. It’s amazing to think you could be playing in both?
FA: It is amazing! Back-to-back Ashes series have never happened before and if it’s my fate, it will be a source of great happiness for me. Importance is given to the Ashes throughout the world, but in particular [in] Australia and England, where it’s even bigger than the World Cup. The Ashes are a true test of a player’s ability and the level of competition is very high. A lot of people get involved, the whole nation and the media focus on it a lot. If I manage to become part of the Ashes team, nothing would make me happier. Playing in the Ashes would be a dream come true for me.
PP: You have only played a little bit of cricket over the course of your career. You’re 33-years-old but it seems that age doesn’t hamper leg-spinners as it may fast bowlers. You must feel you have quite a few years of cricket left?
FA: I’d like to first clarify something – I had given the original documents to Cricket Australia, but there were errors in the dates. They are now being changed. The original numbers were February 5, 1980, but I have provided the documents to Cricket Australia via the government to show that my correct date of birth is February 5, 1982 (note this has now been corrected).
PP: So you’re 31 years old, not 33?
FA: Yes, and looking ahead, as a spinner, Brad Hogg played for Australia at the age of 41, making a comeback; Stuart MacGill played domestic cricket late into his career; Shane Warne is still playing. I believe I can play at least six or seven years with ease as I place a lot of importance on my fitness and hopefully I can play for many years to come.
PP: Thanks for your time today and best of luck for the future!
FA: Thank you!
(Saj Sadiq is Senior Editor at PakPassion.net)